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Different Leader, Same Mistake

By Stuart Hertzog
October 3rd, 2008

BC Green leader parachutes into Vancouver-Fairview by-election

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
— George Santayana, The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress

Vancouver-Fairview 2005Victoria, BC — Although philosopher George Santayana offered his sage observation to the world back in 1924, it seems that his message hasn’t yet reached the inner sanctum of the Green Party of BC.

Vancouver-Fairview was vacated last June by NDP MLA Gregor Robertson when he stepped down to run as Vision Vancouver’s mayoralty candidate. Robertson won Fairview in 2005 by just 895 votes over BC Liberal Virginia Greene, capturing over 13,009 (47%) of the votes cast in that constituency.

Although Green candidate Hamdy El-Rayes came third behind Greene (what a difference an ‘e’ makes!), at only 8.88% (2,400 votes) he trailed way behind in the dust of the two front runners. Since then, a minor boundary redistribution for 2009 has tipped the balance perhaps even more in the NDP’s favour, although I understand that this won’t be in effect for this by-election.

Anger on Cambie Street

Fairview has been plagued by disruption caused by the Canada Line project to connect downtown to the airport and Richmond. This has angered small business owners along Cambie Street and forced some to close. Robertson has already capitalised on the BC Liberal’s refusal to compensate business owners.

By-elections are always an opportunity to stick it to the current government, and the NDP is using the Canada Line to power its by-election campaign. Although the construction disruption is winding down, the BC Liberals can’t be too popular in Fairview right now, leaving the NDP well-positioned to win.

Why would Sterk want to take on what is obviously a losing proposition for any Green candidate? She may be a poll-topping municipal councillor in Esquimalt, but in Fairview she’s just a parachute candidate, and even worse, she’s another Green Party leader muscling in on a local scene just to raise her public profile.

Seriously downhill

The last time a BC Green Party leader tried this trick it went seriously downhill. Former BC Green party leader Adriane Carr ran in the Surrey-Panorama Ridge by-election in October 2004 for the same reasons, and lost heavily. Her share of the vote at 8.37% (1,053 votes) was even lower than 2001 election Green candidate Sunny Atwal’s 8.83% share, from which he received 1,437 votes.

It was the last nail in Carr’s leadership coffin. Not long after her humiliation, the party’s provincial executive made it clear that she had to go. Carr negotiated an agreement to become deputy leader of the federal Greens, and stepped down. Could another BC Green leader be about to lose credibility to an NDP drubbing?

Doesn’t make sense

There are many reasons why Sterk shouldn’t run in Vancouver-Fairview. She must know that she’s unlikely to win, so her primary purpose must be to boost her public profile. But if she bombs as Carr did, how is that going to help her?

Even if she makes a respectable showing, which is unlikely as she’s so obviously not from that community, how is that going to play out back home when the provincial election is called in 2009? Or is she going to forsake the strong support of her home base and run again in Vancouver-Fairview?

Either course of action just doesn’t make sense. It’s almost as bad as Elizabeth May forsaking London North Centre where she polled 26% in the 2006 by-election, to run against local hero Peter MacKay in conservative Central Nova.

Bad advice?

Why is she doing this? Either Sterk must be getting bad advice from the same unimaginatively conventional Green strategists who supported Carr’s decision to run in Surrey-Panorama in 2004 — if Carr was actually listening to anyone else at that time. Or, her political ambitions have overcome her common sense.

I suspect the former, which brings me back once again to my conclusion that Green parties are rapidly moving away from their foundational grassroots democratic principles. Dumping a ‘star candidate’ onto a local constituency is a prime example of the arrogance of conventional, ‘top-down’ politics, in which the leader and party brass subvert any local democratic initiative.

Instead of pushing him- or herself before the public, a genuinely Green leader would seek out and cultivate local activist candidates prominent in community issues. She or he would make sure that the candidate has a strong local Green constituency association active on local issues, ready to support the campaign.

Patterns of the past

That’s what I was hoping to see in a revitalised BC Green Party. But here we go again, another conventional political leader repeating the same unsuccessful patterns of the past. It’s so boring; it won’t work; and it just ain’t Green.



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8 Responses

  1. fire_walk_with_him Says:

    I have to say although I much admire Jane Sterk as a person this one left me scratching my head. I can’t see an upside on this one. Surely she doesn’t think she can actually win this contest? Who indeed advised her on this?

  2. Stuart Hertzog Says:

    I don’t know for sure, but I have my suspicions.

  3. Hendrik de Pagter Says:

    Well-argued. It would indeed be interesting to hear the leader’s analysis and reasoning.

    I disagree with your suggestion that Elizabeth May should run in London North Centre because of her name recognition and to build on the 26% won in the by-election. She should run in Ottawa West-Nepean and demolish that attack dog Minister of Environmental Pillage John Baird.

    Yet others argue she should have run in Saanich-Gulf Islands and taken out Gary Lunn.

    Elizabeth’s reasoning for choosing Central Nova was well-explained: her aging parents are in Nova Scotia and that’s where she grew up as a teen and young adult. She wants to bring Atlantic Canada’s voice to Parliament and she wants to take out the traitorous Peter MacKay, weak scion of Elmer MacKay and destroyer of the Progressive Conservative Party. I saw him interviewed today. He won’t even mention her name. She’s made her case, I think.

    By the way, I got a bit confused between Fairview and Fairfield. Which is it?

  4. Stuart Hertzog Says:

    The Greens would need a couple of dozen Elizabeth Mays to take out the worst of the government ministers. But by my reckoning, rather than being Elizabeth May clones, they should be Green community activists who actually live in the riding.

    And oops! Yes, it is indeed Vancouver-Fairview. I was confused by the Fairfield district of Victoria, where I live. Thanks for your comments and the correction.

  5. J-M Toriel Says:

    One cannot even begin to compare Surrey-Panorama Ridge with Vancouver Fairview. This was a very good strategic move on Jane Sterk’s part:

    1) Popular Gregor Robertson won this riding in 2005 by swaying the soft-green vote from 2001 and the support of Vanessa Violini who ran for the Greens in 2001 as one of the strongly supported Green ridings.

    2) Gregor Robertson was arguably the “greenest” MLA with the BC NDP.

    3) As a new leader of the GPBC, Jane Sterk must raise her profile in the Lower Mainland where she is little known and this will raise her profile locally and provincially in an extremely high-profile contentious by-election.

    4) The other candidates are women and have little or no political experience — she has a better chance here than her home riding of Esquimalt (where she would run against a very popular NDP MLA, Maurine Karagianis.

    5) Voters are much more willing to take a “leap of faith” during a by-election (as Elizabeth May found in London North-Centre where she nearly won against 3 strong candidates and Dan Grice found in Vancouver Quadra recently)

    6) The polling average federally will be more a factor in urban ridings (like Vancouver Centre – which makes up much of the provincial Fairview boundary) and Adriane Carr and her campaign have done a lot of door knocking there with a similar message.

    7) The NDP candidate is very weak and inexperienced leaving this riding wide open for the taking

  6. Stuart Hertzog Says:

    You give many excellent reasons why Jane Sterk should run in Vancouver-Fairview, J-M. But to me, the main negatives are still that she’s a parachute candidate who does not live in the riding, and that her running there doesn’t build up the experience or exposure of local Greens. Her approach is a conventional ‘top-down’ political response and not a grassroots democratic one. To me, that’s a very important factor in Green politics.

  7. Jean Proulx Says:

    Jean Proulx’s Picks: How to Stop Harper In Your Riding

    To begin with, full disclosure: I am a supporter of Stéphane Dion and the Liberals. I have been working as an ordinary grassroots Liberal volunteer in the riding of Westmount-Ville Marie during this election (go Marc Garneau, the first ever Canadian astronaut and a profoundly decent man!). Specifically I have worked on getting elderly supporters of Mr. Garneau, who do not have means of transportation, out to advanced polls so they can vote. I have also spent a lot of time on the phones speaking with voters in the riding. I am just an ordinary Liberal supporter though (not even a member since I forgot to renew the last time my membership card expired). I have no official position within the Liberal Party and I speak for no one except myself. In fact, I had drifted away from the Liberal Party in recent years and had become pretty apathetic about Canadian politics. Stéphane Dion got me interested again when he announced the Green Shift (which is a policy I think our country really needs).

    However, the thing I am most concerned about – the reason I am really revved up for this election – is because I would like to see Stephan Harper defeated. Badly *lol*. Stephen Harper is not a bad or ill-intentioned man. I just sincerely believe that his policies are bad for Canada. They are bad:

    • for our economy (especially our manufacturing sector and our long-term productivity/competitiveness)

    • bad for the environment

    • bad for our culture,

    • bad for women,

    • bad for our criminal justice system;

    • bad for national unity

    • bad for our country’s poor

    • bad for what’s left of the civility and spirit of mutual respect in Canadian politics

    • bad for democracy (especially for the Parliamentary press gallery),

    • bad for Canada’s place in the world

    • Heck they’re even bad for Alberta (especially for your environment and mid to long-term economic interests). I know that last message is unlikely to resonate but, hey, that is what I genuinely believe. And I love Alberta. We need Alberta to be strong to have a strong Canada.

    In any event, in the spirit of non-partisanship behind the strategic voting movement and based on information from http://www.voteforenvironment.ca, I am advising the following…

    • I urge all Liberals and NDP supporters and all non-affiliated and undecided voters to vote for Elizabeth May and the Green Party in Central Nova

    • I call on all anti-Harper forces to vote for independent Bill Casey in Cumberland–Colchester–Musquodoboit Valley

    J’encourage mes amis Libéral, NPD et dans le Parti Vert de voter pour le Bloc Québecois dans les comtés suivants…/ I encourage NDP, Liberal and Green supporters and independent voters to vote Bloc Québecois for strategic reasons in:

    • Beauport—Limoilou (Éléonore Mainguy)

    • Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine (Raynald Blais)

    • Haute-Gaspésie–La Mitis–Matane—Matapédia (Jean-Yves Roy)

    • Jonquière—Alma (Chantale Bouchard)

    • Lévis-Bellechassse (Guy Bergeron)

    • Lotbinière–Chutes-de-la-Chaudière (Antoine Sarrazin-Bourgoin)

    • Louis-Hébert (Pascal-Pierre Paillé)

    • Montmorency–Charlevoix–Haute-Côte-Nord (Michel Guimond)

    • Québec (Christiane Gagnon)

    • Richmond-Arthabaska (André Bellavance)

    • Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot (Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac)

    • Saint-Maurice-Champlain (Jean-Yves Laforest)

    • Shefford (Robert Vincent)

    And, last but not least, I encourage Liberal, Green, and independent voters to vote NDP in:

    • Halifax (Megan Leslie)

    • Hamilton East-Stoney Creek (Wayne Marston)

    • Hamilton Mountain (Chris Charlton)

    • Oshawa (Mike Shields)

    • Ottawa Centre (Paul Dewar)

    • Elmwood-Transcona (Jim Maloway)

    • Kildonan-St. Paul (Ross Eadie)

    • Selkirk-Interlake (Pat Cordner)

    • Palliser (Don Mitchell)

    • Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre (Fred Kress)

    • Regina-Qu’Appelle (Janice Bernier)

    • Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar (Nettie Wiebe)

    • British Columbia Southern Interior (Alex Atamanenko)

    • Burnaby-Douglas (Bill Siksay)

    • Burnaby-New Westminster (Peter Julian)

    • Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo (Michael Crawford)

    • Nanaimo-Alberni (Zeni Maartman)

    • Nanaimo-Cowichan (Jean Crowder)

    • New Westminster-Coquitlam (Dawn Black)

    • Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission (Mike Bocking)

    • Surrey North (Rachid Arab)

    • Vancouver Island North (Catherine Bell)

    For all other ridings I recommend that you consult http://www.voteforenvironment.ca just before the election Oct 14th and make an informed decision about the best way for you to help defeat Stephan Harper in your riding. In fact, it would be a good idea for ALL strategic voters to double-check the site just before voting.

    Feel free to link this note and spread the word.

  8. Stuart Hertzog Says:

    Jean, I think your comment may be better if attached to the next article, Time for a Coalition of the Opposition. For some reason, it’s been put here. Unfortunately, I don’t have a way of changing the comments to another post. As well, some comments have been marked as spam and held back by the system — luckily, I caught them. It’s a problem with the Akismet comment spam plugin. My apologies to Jean and everyone whose comments have been held back or lost to this.

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